Tone Deaf’s Dunja Nedic finds that the adage ‘opposites attract’ is a myth.
This is why a duet between much-loved local, Julia Stone, and Pennsylvanian singer/songwriter, William Fitzsimmons, was a natural meeting. Both gravitate towards the gentle, yet intensely personal in their music, and created the perfect blend of sentiment for Fitzsimmons’s track, ‘Let You Break’.
‘I’ve been a fan of Angus and Julia for a little while, it was kind of a random thing. I knew that that song was something I had a very specific thing in mind for. We had it fully recorded and finished and I ended up throwing it out and starting from scratch again because it just wasn’t the right feel.
‘Anyway, the long and short is we’re on the same label in the States, somebody suggested that maybe Julia will be somebody that would work. I thought that would be a brilliant idea and she was kind enough to do it. I think I was in France at the time when I first heard the first mix of it and I knew it was what it needed to be, it was good.’
A soft-spoken psychotherapist slash musician who has openly written and sung about experiences as personal as his familial disintegration during his youth, his divorce from his wife and mental illness, Fitzsimmons has found for his music its own little space to belong.
‘It sounds a little bit trite but I really do mean it, there’s a lot of people that are much better at any single aspect of being a musician or writer than I am, but that’s why I think I was getting the opportunity because I do have a bit of a unique placement in this field,’ says Fitzsimmons. ‘I feel like if I stay on that path, I’m doing the right thing but if I start making songs to try to get bigger or get bigger pay cheques or something, I don’t think I’m really using that opportunity the way I was meant to.’
Fitzsimmons’s 2008 release, The Sparrow and the Crow, detailed his separation from his wife of almost a decade and was rewarded with various awards and accolades, including iTunes Australia’s Best International Singer/Songwriter Album in 2009, and iTunes US’s Best Singer/Songwriter Album in 2008. On his third and most recent album, Gold in the Shadow, he has continued with the abundant self-disclosure that both fans and critics have come to love and expect from him.
‘It’s just the way I was raised and it’s how my mother always taught us to be, to be honest even if it is a bit painful. That’s probably one of the things that led me to getting into psychology and counseling and everything,’ he explains. ‘There, the only way is absolute disclosure and vulnerability so when it came to music, it just felt like it was the natural thing to do. I kind of think if you hold back on that stuff, you’re never quite going to get to the real deep nasty stuff; that’s where the change actually takes place…[and] you can be on the other side of that, you just need to get through all the ugly stuff first.
‘Most music really is therapeutic, whether or not the writer or the listener mean it to be. If you’re connecting with it on any level, it’s doing something, whether it’s giving you a little bit of joy or soothing some sort of pain you have, it’s almost all therapeutic. I just try to make that as effective and powerful as possible. In that sense, when I sit down to write a song, the therapy part of it still is the foremost thing. To me I’m 51% therapist and 49% musician.’
It doesn’t appear that there is any conflict on Fitzsimmons’s part around being both a psychologist and a musician, and both his musical and academic upbringing have clearly played a role in what he wants his songwriting to bring to his audience.
‘Nothing beats when I come out [after the shows] and I talk to people or they write me little messages online that say that it really helped them get through a really difficult time in their life. That’s incredible,’ he graciously states.
But no matter the high esteem fans that fans hold him in, it seems that even Fitzsimmons can rely on his parents to keep his feet firmly on the ground.
‘They don’t quite understand it. My Dad would be more impressed if I was trained in classical music,’ he laughs. ‘They always have to have something to hold over you just a little bit.
Gold In The Shadow is out now in Australia through Shock.